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Elton John wins appeal over fake sculptures sold to him by French dealer

Expert vindicated after four-year legal battle

Sir Elton John could have been forgiven for fearing that the wheels of French justice had not so much turned slowly as shuddered to a distinctly Anglo­phobic halt.

For four years, he endured a leisurely succession of court hearings, punctuated by repeated adjournments, in his dispute with a Parisian antique dealer who had sold him four statues of Greek gods for $360,000 in 1996.

Yet the issue could hardly have been simpler: were they the work of the 18th-century Italian sculptor Luigi Grossi, as claimed, or were they cheap modern fakes?

At last, the Première Chambre of the Paris Court of Appeal has overturned an earlier decision in favour of the dealer Jean Renoncourt and ruled in favour of the multi-millionaire pop star and art collector.

On 27 June, the court declared the statues to be forgeries, and awarded Sir Elton around £250,000 ($500,000) in dam­ages and costs, plus interest to be calculated.

In 2003 a lower court had dismissed Sir Elton’s claim, saying he had brought no evidence that the statues were not authentic. Mr Renoncourt was granted costs estimated at £15,000 ($30,000; The Art Newspaper, June 2003, p40).

Despite obstacles and delays, Sir Elton kept up his campaign to correct what he saw as a glaring injustice.

The latest decision amounted to a vindication of the expertise of Simon Yates, the British art specialist who—during an insurance reassessment in 2001—originally identified the statues as copies worth no more than £10,000 ($20,000) between them. The judge at the lower court had dismissed Mr Yates’s report as mere “opinion” without evidential substance.

“The most obvious flaw was with Hercules and Hebe [one of the four sculptures], showing him hoisting the maiden though she is actually bigger than him with mighty shoulders. It was clear that I was looking at fakes, probably churned out in a Chinese valley in the last few decades,” said Mr Yates

Mr Yates believes the initial setbacks were linked to French dismay that art sales in Paris were at the time being opened up to competition from Britain. “We did feel the French courts were putting every barrier in the way of getting the case decided,” he said.

He is reassured that the frustrations of the case have not diminished Sir Elton’s appetite for art, though his tastes have changed and he now prefers contemporary works.

Bernard Duminy, Sir Elton’s lawyer, said he was waiting to hear whether Mr Renoncourt intended to appeal the court’s judgement. “We are most satisfied with the outcome, which fully acknowledges Sir Elton’s claim,” he said.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Elton John wins appeal over fake sculptures'